Oman is a vibrant country full of contrasts, ideal for those seeking an authentic Arabian experience. Rugged mountains plunge down towards sandy beaches, which fringe inviting turquoise and azure seas. In the cities, historic ruins sit side by side with gleaming modern Arabic architecture, and heading to the south, rolling sand dunes make way for hills clad with frankincense trees.
It is fair to say that Oman is perhaps less well known, and certainly less visited, than some of its other Middle Eastern neighbours. In 2017, Oman welcomed over 3 million tourists, whereas nearby Dubai saw visitor numbers of close to 16 million. Whilst it is it certain that Oman will continue to see a growth in tourism over the coming years, for the foreseeable future this provides a wonderful opportunity to escape the crowds and feel like you are discovering new horizons.
Indeed, Oman lends itself very well to the intrepid traveller and those looking for adventure. The Hajar Mountains in the north of the country are a playground for cyclers, trekkers and climbers, and the dramatic rock formations provide opportunities for caving and canyoning. However, for those who prefer a more leisurely experience, there are plenty of spots to simply sit back and enjoy the breathtaking views, or spend time wandering through the area’s imposing forts or ancient souks, located in and around the city of Nizwa.
For those who know where to look, the capital city of Muscat also has plenty of history. Whilst many of the arguably more impressive sites, such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House are relatively new, there are also a number of excellent museums which display hidden treasures from Oman’s past. The suburbs of the capital also lead to some lovely beaches, and Muscat is the best base for boat trips out into the Gulf of Oman, where there is a myriad of marine life, including coral reefs, dolphins, whales and turtles. The coast to the south of Muscat is also home to turtle nesting sites, which can be seen at the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.
Whilst the beaches around Muscat are certainly inviting, the shores surrounding Salalah in the southern Dhofar Governorate are absolutely stunning. Vast swathes of powdery sand line the palm-fringed coast, and pods of dolphins can often be seen from the shore. Salalah has a very different atmosphere and climate compared to the north. Tropical weather means temperatures are more stable, and the area is home to many plantations, which grow papaya, coconut and even banana. The Dhofar region also experiences a monsoon during the summer months, known as the khareef. Whilst temperatures soar in the north, the mountains around Salalah are clad with clouds and mists, and the countryside bursts into lush greenery, with flowing springs and waterfalls. Salalah is also the gateway to the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali in Arabic), the largest sand desert in the world, and a virtually undiscovered wilderness.
The Empty Quarter is not Oman’s only desert; in fact, the country has few! Wahiba Sands, also known as A'Sharqiyah Sands, is the most easily accessible, only a few hours’ drive from Muscat or Nizwa. Here visitors will find huge golden dunes, and some of Arabia’s most memorable sunsets.
Oman is an excellent destination for families, with superb child-friendly hotels and plenty of activities to suit all ages. A combination of the beach, mountains and desert makes for an easy-going but exciting trip, which can easily be tailored for you.